Used To Be Acceptable
Humans have evolved over millions of years, but along the way, there have been mistakes. One unfortunate “improvement” was disrespecting a segment of our society. For example, applying uncomplimentary names to different races, creeds, or sexual orientations. These slurs used to be acceptable in everyday conversation, literature, and media.
The good news is that most people in our society are now educated enough to recognize uncomplimentary terms, and we no longer tolerate them. However, there are a few problems left to iron out.
How do we deal with older books or movies with material we now consider offensive? Some people wish to keep these “classic” works available because they are “examples of how we used to be.” Others want these works to be edited to modern standards, and others wish these works to be destroyed. Offensive material presents problems for school districts, libraries, content holders, and bookstores who must decide what books to keep in circulation.
Let’s examine the three options. The novel Huckleberry Finn contains disrespectful content and is still in circulation without edits. However, some organizations use copies with a disclaimer/warning to prepare readers. Other organizations choose not to make this work available.
The Hardy Boys books used to contain racially insensitive scenes, characters, and dialog. The first book came out in 1927, and the entire series was re-released in the ‘50s with edits to remove disrespectful material. But by the ‘90s, it was time for another refresh, and more material got removed. However, many libraries continue to ban these popular books because of their disrespectful past.
In the ‘20s through ‘50s, several grossly insensitive films were released. I am sure there are a few examples in film vaults, but most were discarded. Today, it is impossible to find conversions of these insensitive works on DVD or other media. Even documentaries that examine this offensive subject have difficulties locating examples.
There is another problem. How do writers create characters, descriptions, or scenes set in the past? Do we use outdated methods for historical accuracy? Or take a lighter approach by tastefully (respectfully) acknowledging improper treatment? Another option is to close our eyes to the awful past and write to modern standards. It is a tough call, and writers must make a choice.
Some bold writers choose to create works with disrespectful material. They feel their material is more historically accurate, shocking, educating, and eye-opening. Some readers/viewers enjoy such works, and others feel writers are capitalizing on prior poor treatment of people.
I do not enjoy such works. Does this mean I am ignoring the past? (Turning a blind eye to suffering.) I know well that people were treated poorly. Yet, I agree some people need “a good smack of reality to get them on the better path.” And important stories must be told “in the raw” to make society not repeat prior mistakes. Still, this material makes me want to yell, “You (people in the past) should know better!”
There is another elephant in the room. Society enjoys bold works, and timid authors are relegated to poverty. Does this mean that fearless writers profit from the awful things that occurred in the past? Umm, sometimes they do. Bummer. Well, this is not a great way to end a blog. However, there is still some good news. Remember at the beginning of this blog? Society is getting better.

You’re the best -Bill
October 12, 2022
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